S. E. Williams | Voice Executive Editor
“The right to speak guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. The Constitution includes the right to voice opinions, criticize others, and comment on matters of public interest.”
Far too many Inland Empire residents were already dead of COVID-19, when I received an email from a critic reacting to one of my recent opinion pieces.
I might have relegated it to my ‘round file’ as a reminder of how people see things differently (and that is certainly okay) were I not among those who believe “politics equaled death” regarding how some elected officials responded to the pandemic last year. We owe it to history to document observations beyond what will be written by those in power at all levels of government.
It is no secret, history, as documented, has traditionally omitted a lot, misrepresented a lot, distorted some truths, and blatantly lied about others. When the story of this pandemic is told, it should include details about what happened from a variety of perspectives and let history be the judge.
During some of the darkest COVID-19 days in 2020 two sets of county government officials, the Riverside and San Bernardino County Boards of Supervisors, ran over each other to criticize, argue against, and even file lawsuits to halt actions by Governor Newsom intended to help curb the spread of the deadly virus and save lives.
In my opinion local supervisors filed these suits for no reason other than to hold their party’s line, as most supervisors on both boards—though seated as nonpartisan—are Republicans. And, after all, toting the party line is nothing new in politics.
Furthermore and also, in my opinion, the county lawsuits were less about keeping the community safe and were more focused on pacifying their base and keeping the economy afloat to help the 2020 election causes of their dear leader, their party, and their own political interests, though neatly wrapped for public consumption in the usual arguments of wanting to save small businesses and the local economy.
In my opinion piece, “Two Public Health Directors in the IE are Out… A Coincidence or Not? I think Not!,” published March 30, https://blackvoicenews.com/2021/03/30/keeping-it-real-two-public-health-directors-in-the-ie-are-out-a-coincidence-or-not-i-think-not/, I spoke about Corwin Porter accepting his role as San Bernardino’s Public Health Director in 2020 while knowing his retirement was imminent. I made no assessment regarding why this occurred, I just noted it happened, it’s timing, and the timing of his official retirement this year.
I also highlighted the potential advantage available to him for increased pension benefits resulting from his salary increase and how this impacts local taxpayers though I did not mention for a county with a 2019 poverty rate of 13.3% well above the national average of 10.5% for the same period any additional pension burden is too much.
Again, this was just an observation, and my opinion about what occurred.
Perhaps the critic was sensitive to my stating a blinding flash of the obvious—something most government watchdogs and others know happens as it relates to placing people in higher-paid positions to enhance their pensions. I hope by continuing to shine a light on this we can stop this disparate practice unless and until we are willing to create the same opportunities for every citizen from judge to janitor in this country—something we all know, is unlikely.
I not only offered this observation, I included a qualification regarding Porter that my critic conveniently chose to ignore, it read, “Who knows what negotiations take place “behind-closed-doors”? I’m not saying this is what happened, I’m merely offering it as a possibility.”
My critic advised me, “Corwin is perhaps the kindest, most dedicated, and most honorable person who has ever worked for the county and who I have encountered in my professional career.”
To that I say, I have no reason to doubt Corwin Porter is as described. However, I never made any comment in my piece about Porter’s personal attributes nor his commitment to his job one way or the other beyond, “Porter served the county more than 30 years before taking the position.”
I further highlighted how, while county supervisors were suing Newsom late last year, Porter told the LA Times, “He worried the holiday gatherings and travel were going to add to an already “scary situation.” Porter also declared, “I’m not sure if everyone’s listening anymore.”
What I conveyed
The point of my opinion piece, which my critic so willfully ignored, was that Porter—like Riverside County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser (also mentioned in the piece) and who often found himself at odds with Riverside County Supervisors over the local response to COVID-19—made public statements that appeared at odds with the direction pursued by the Board of Supervisors in San Bernardino County.
During one of the most dangerous periods of the pandemic while public health experts Porter and Kaiser raised concerns and waved red flags as the virus sickened more locals and the death toll continued to climb, board supervisors in both counties were taking a different approach and using taxpayer dollars to file suit against actions taken by the governor designed to keep constituents safe. My bottom line, while the supervisors played politics, people got sick and died—that is my opinion.
The critic also accused me of creating a false impression that Porter was fired though I never used the word fired, noted the high praise he received from county officials upon his departure, and repeated at least three times, Porter “retired.”
When the departures of both Kaiser and Porter were announced the same day, I highlighted what is noted above. Those who follow this column know I end each week with, “This is just my opinion . . .”
I have a right to my opinion
Apparently, my critic feels I do not have a right to an opinion. However, I have a voice and the First Amendment of the Constitution applies as much to me as it does to everyone else in this county or country.
If the critic disagrees, then in my professionalism I respect his right to do so–offering him more grace than he offered me in his criticism.
In doing so, however, I am unwilling to let his accusations of “faulty assumptions and false accusations” go unanswered. Just to set the record straight, I made observations and offered opinions—there is a difference.
I must also call out how the critic selectively sought to discredit my position by pretending it was a personal attack on Porter when it is evident whatever occurred regarding his pension was within the authority of the Board of Supervisors to decide, not his.
My piece was written as an indictment of those leading the county, and their inability to (1) do the right thing relative to protecting taxpayer dollars when it comes to pension payments; and (2) most importantly, how they willingly played politics with people’s lives during the pandemic while the health director was publicly declaring concerns over the virus and its expanding risks to people’s health and safety.
Finally, the critic noted, “Keeping it real” means taking the time and making the effort to get it right before you engage in character assassination.” I consider this a petty attack and just another weak and punitive red herring attempt to discredit my opinion and distract from how San Bernardino County Supervisors put politics ahead of people during a deadly pandemic.
Of course, as I say every week, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.